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Salt Lake schools meet grant requirement

District gets $1.1 million in matching gifts

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Salt Lake City School District has come up with enough money to keep its Eccles/Annenberg Challenge Grant, which was jeopardized last summer when a donor withdrew support amid the school closures debate.

The district in the past two months came up with $1.1 million in matching donations needed to keep the school reform grant, district Eccles/Annenberg director Maria Farrington said.

Of that, $500,000 came from an anonymous donor that may be revealed next month, Farrington said. The rest came from people with whom district leaders met to tout grant benefits.

"We're very pleased with the response of our community and with the response of our schools, teachers and students," Salt Lake City Board of Education President Joel Briscoe said Wednesday. "We've got hard evidence that students do better when teachers are provided powerful professional development."

But the fund-raising isn't over. The district wants to come up with another $1 million to implement programs schools have dreamed up under the grant.

The Walter F. Annenberg Foundation in 1996 awarded Salt Lake City School District a $4 million school-improvement grant. The gift came with the condition the district would turn the grant into $12 million by Dec. 31, 2001.

The district received a hefty head start from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, which offered $2.5 million, and the R. Harold Burton Foundation, which pledged $1 million toward the cause. The district threw in $3 million of its own teacher training money.

The district has been raising money since.

But its efforts took a turn last June when the Burton Foundation withdrew $400,000 of its pledge. Foundation board chairwoman Judy Moyle said the district didn't establish innovative curricula. The foundation also didn't like the district closing schools or giving its own money to the matching grant.

Days later, the school board voted to close Lowell and Rosslyn Heights elementaries because of declining numbers of students living on the city's east side. The district is building schools in the west to alleviate overcrowding. A lawsuit challenging the closures is pending in 3rd District Court.

The school district touts the Eccles/Annenberg grant as a key to educational reform.

Under the grant, schools examine their needs, then come up with goals and plans to achieve them. Teachers receive extra professional development.

Test scores reflect the improvements. Scores steadily increase the longer the school has had a school improvement plan in place, according to analyses by district director of research and evaluation Charles Hausman.

The climbs are reported on state-mandated core curriculum exams taken at the end of the school year in math and language arts and the Stanford Achievement Test.

The data bodes well for the district at a time when educational reform is at the forefront of state and national discussion, Farrington said.

"The Salt Lake City School District is doing more than talking about it. It's fully engaged in educational reform."

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com